Obviously this is not a live album. There’s a lot of overdubbing going on here.
Greg Koch: Yes. The first record, Toby Arrives, was pretty much a live-in-the-studio record. I was going to keep the same idea for this one but as we started recording, it would sound cooler if I would just add this or that. And it just developed from there. “Funky Klaus” is one of those, where I’ve got a 12-string electric guitar (Reverend Airstream 12) doing some chording, then I’ve got slide guitar in there, I added baritone guitar parts (Reverend Pete Anderson baritone), and then I overdubbed the solos, including a slide guitar solo. So there’s a little bit more production value in these tunes, for sure.
How long did it take you to record and mix this record?
Greg Koch: We’ve been messing around with these tracks for a good year and a half. When I’d be in town we’d have Toby come in from Minneapolis and we’d do a bunch of bed tracks. And then I went in and did some overdubs on a bunch of the first chunk of tunes. Then Dylan would come in and do some percussion overdubs. And when Toby would be around he’d come in and get some other overdubbing done. So we had some stuff in various stages of completion. And then when the lockdown happened we started to scrutinize what we had. Toby came back in and touched up things here and there and then there were a couple of drum solos that needed to be overdubbed, so Dylan came in and did that. Then when I started mixing with (engineer) Steve Hamilton, we’d re-address it again, doing little fixes here and there.
These are all original tunes but they carry a flavor of some of those tunes you probably played at CYO dances back in the day when you were emulating your heroes.
Koch: Absolutely. I had a band in college that was a horn band and we did The Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger” and those tunes. And you can hear that influence on “Funky Klaus,” which was named for our tour manager and booking agent in Germany, Klaus Schmidt. This was a tune where Toby came in with the groove, so he had the basic form down and he played it for us at a sound check. Then I added the melody that’s there and added a lick. But basically, that’s all Toby’s. And as we were recording it I had him change the register of where he played that melody to a higher register, and it sounded much cooler. We had been playing that song for a while at gigs and we just added those extra touches in the studio. If it’s a tune that we’ve been gigging out with live, we try to record it as much live as possible. And that includes the leads, obviously. I like to keep that as much as possible and then just kind of tweak from there.
You open with the instrumental “Luna Girl,” which has a heavy-duty ZZ Top kind of feel. But there’s some very slick Albert Lee-styled chicken-pickin’ going on there as well.
Koch: Yeah, there’s definitely some Albert Lee in there. My whole kind of chicken-pickin’ stew has morphed and mutated over time. Certainly the initial two guys that got me into that flavored stuff was Albert Lee and Mark Knopfler. So it’s ironic that these English guys would turn me onto more of the American chicken-pickin’ stuff. But now it’s everything from Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton to Jerry Reed and James Burton. All that stuff is lurking in there. I have tried over the years to take these influences, throw them in the blender and mash them up enough where I don’t try to do anything verbatim from anybody else, if I can possibly avoid it.
Well, it's hard to avoid Albert King if you’re doing “Drowning on Dry Land.”
Koch: That’s correct, although there are some twisted things on there. It gets twisted in a hurry.
We expect nothing less from you.
Koch: Of course.
When I hear “The Tussle,” it reminds me of James Gang a little, maybe “Funk #49.”
Koch: Yeah, I am a total James Gang head. And Joe Walsh is no stranger to playing funky stuff with a gristly tone. I’ve kind of mutated that riff a little bit. I changed the riff when we went in to record it because I’d been doing it kind of different. I started strumming it more like a funk (rhythm guitar) thing and that seemed to work. I’m a real believer of being very much in the moment when you go into the studio. So if it feels better to use a different guitar with a different tone and you do it with a different feel and that seems good, then so be it. And that’s kind of what happened with that tune. We ended up recording it in a way that was a little bit different from how we had been playing it live. And I think it turned out cool.
You mentioned that each guitar has its own character. I’m wondering what you played on “Luna Girl” and “The Tussle.”
Koch: What’s interesting is I played a Gibson 335 on both those songs. On “Luna Girl” I overdubbed a Tele part for the main riff that’s clean. And then, where there’s a call-and-response lead thing at the end, it’s a Tele and a 335. Then on “The Tussle” I overdubbed a clean Strat that’s way far back in the mix. But you can hear it every now and again.
“QuaranTonne” is hilarious.
Koch: I wish it weren’t true!
That’s a topical tune. I gained 15 pounds during lockdown.
Koch: Right, exactly.
Is that a Texas shuffle or a Chicago shuffle?
Koch: Well, that’s a good question. People talk about the differences between those two, but I don’t know. All I know is there’s shuffles I like and there’s shuffles I don’t like. Most of them I like. And long as they got the four on the floor (bass drum) and then the 'chew tobacco' thing going on the snare, it’s fine with me. And then the hi hat can either duplicate that or do the swing rhythm. So I would say that that’s probably a Texas shuffle. And Toby’s playing such awesome bass lines on that tune. It’s just such a laid back in the groove shuffle that it sounds so good.
What guitars are you playing on “QuaranTonne”?
Koch: That’s my signature Reverend Gristlemaster, which is basically a souped-up Telecaster. I have these signature pickups from Fishman and they put them in my signature guitar from Reverend. It’s a slightly larger body Tele. It sounds killer, it looks great.
“Succulent” is a different flavor. I was hearing a Steely Dan influence on that tune.
Koch: What’s weird about that tune is I don’t know what the influence is. I had that riff of those repeating chords from the beginning. I demoed that tune on my computer maybe five years ago and I came up with that little repeating pattern and that little weird B section. And then we started playing it with Toby. It almost has kind of a Tower of Power thing, especially that middle section where it sounds like “Don’t Change Horses.” There’s a kind of Hendrixy funk thing that I’ll do with my inner chords, and that’s where that initial rhythm part came from. But then when I did the melody on top of it, I don't know what the hell I was thinking. I wanted to keep it simple and kind of bendy and vibrato-y, because that’s my favorite thing about guitar, both to listen to and to play. To me, especially with a tune that’s a little more complex harmonically and might be perceived as fusion-esque, it’s important to keep the string bends and the vibrato thing happening. So when I did the melody on that stuff, I tried to bring more of that stuff to the fore than more of a notey fusiony thing.
It’s a killer vibrato. Carlos Santana once put it this way: “I'm just trying to squeeze all the juice out of each note.”
Koch: That’s it! That is it! Squeeze the nectar.
“A Real Mother for You” is a great tribute to Johnny Guitar Watson. When I interviewed Zappa about his favorite guitar players when he was coming up, he said, “I liked Guitar Slim a lot and also Clarence Gatemouth Brown. But Johnny Guitar Watson was the smuttiest.”
Koch: Yes, he certainly was. Just a talented dude across the board. And a piano-playing son of a bitch to boot! Those old piano trio records he did just blew my mind when I heard them.
And the humor, of course.
Koch: Of course! Humor was a part of it. And I loved the way he sang. It’s the whole nine yards with this guy, just the coolest of the cool.
What guitar did you use on that tune?
Koch: That was a new Reverend guitar with P-90s in it. It’s the same Tele body shape as the other ones, a little bit larger, but it’s a set neck and Gibson scale. It’s got an ebony fingerboard and it’s got a Bigsby on it. And that’s what I used on that bad boy, along with a touch of wah-wah and an MXR Phase 45 pedal. I’ve been getting into having a phaser in the arsenal again.
“Brushes” is a very cool, swinging kind of classic organ group tune. And you use a touch of harmonizer on your solo there.
Koch: Yeah, that’s the Octavia. It’s a Hendrix style fuzz-octave thing that a buddy of mine made for me. I use those Octavias a certain way. I have the volume at a certain place and the amount of impact in a certain place, and whenever it gets bumped or something I get pissed. So I told my buddy, “Make me a pedaI where it’s set the way I like it and it just has and on and off switch.” We call it the F-UP. So that’s what I used on that.
That riff you came up with on that song sounds like Horace Silver's “Filthy McNasty.”
Koch: It does, doesn’t it? I do love me some Horace Silver so that’s probably where it got in there.
You’re playing slide guitar on three tunes here.
Koch: Yeah, I’ve always played slide. I guess having a keyboard player in the band lends itself to being able to play slide more, unless I’m playing some open tuning thing. Having that organ fill things out it lends itself to give me a lot more freedom to do more slide stuff.
You talk about Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, Albert King being big influences. Are there any particular players that may have influenced your whole approach or vocabulary with the slide?
Koch: Well, again, it’s all about the vibrato thing for me. I remember the first slide solo I ever learned was Mick Taylor doing the slide solo on the Stones’ “Love in Vain” from Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. And I always loved his vibrato, but I was like, “Well, where’s that coming from?” And I later realized it was coming from Earl Hooker. So I got into Earl Hooker and then found out that he listened to Robert Nighthawk, so I started listening to him. Also, I was really into Ry Cooder and was a huge Duane Allman fan. And I would listen to older slide stuff as well, like Elmore James. But then when I heard Derek Trucks, it brought a bunch of interesting things together for me. I loved his gospel pedal steel/lap steelapproach, but I also loved that kind of East Indian vibe as well. And Derek seemed to personify all of it. So I was really intrigued by how he played. At one point a couple of years ago I was trying to understand how his intonation was so perfect. So I just sat down and said, “I'm going to figure it out,” because I don’t believe in divine right of kings. If it can be done, it can be done. So I started figuring out all the Derek Trucks slide stuff, fretting with the slide and everything. And it was kind of fun. I did a little video and sent it to Jimmy Herring, and he was like, “I think you cracked the code.”
It’s a very vocal, singing quality.
Koch: Right. And when I was woodshedding on that, I just started playing along with vocal things — songs by Etta James and Sly Stone — and I was matching that with the slide. So that’s what put me on that path. Now I’m trying to have enough of my own vibrato, enough of my own wise-assery in there when I’m playing slide so that it sounds more like me. I’m just doing me as much as possible these days.
What is the story behind “Nubby the Hoarder Man”? It sounds very Zappa influenced.
Koch: Yeah, everybody always mentions that Zappa tune “Advance Romance” (from 1975’s Bongo Fury). Well, across the street from our house there is this house where this old guy lived, and his name was Nubby. I never really talked to him. He seemed kind of ornery but all the other neighbors seemed to like him. But we had only moved into this house only five years earlier so we didn’t know him from back in the day or anything. He was just this odd neighborhood character who would always be in front of his house, sweeping his sidewalk and whatnot. And then one day he disappeared. And because he was 90-some odd years old, we started thinking the worst about Nubby. And sure enough, he had passed away. When they started taking stuff out of his house, it was a day after day process that lasted for months. And one day I just said, “Nubby must have been a hoarder man.” And that’s what that song is about.
There’s more slide on that tune.
Koch: That is correct. I’m in open G for that. I might have been an open D for the slide solo on “Funky Klaus” but “Soul Stroll” was definitely in standard tuning.
Do you have a preferred guitar for a slide with higher action?
Koch: No, I just play slide on whatever guitar that’s handy, I don’t set something up special for it. Although I have this new guitar that a guy made for me that I’m going to bring as my specific slide axe once Covid ends and I start traveling more. It’s a Firebird body with a Tele neck. It’s got a Tele bridge pick and Tele controls but it’s got a Johnny Winter signed Mojotone Firebird neck pick up. I’m looking forward to playing that on gigs.
The instrumental “Allora” is a beautiful minor key blues, in a way. And there’s some call-and-response two-guitar dialogue going on there.
Koch: Absolutely. I just wanted a nice little minor bluesy thing to jam on and came up with that little riff, which was somewhat reminiscent of Robert Plant's “Big Log.” So I just came up with that little melody, and then I came up with some changes that were not absolutely standard minor blues but still in the realm. We had been playing it live for quite a bit. As a matter of fact, we recorded it in Italy on a live thing that we did. So there’s a version of it that’s actually been online for a while that was all live. When we started recording this, I was thinking that we’d do a live thing in the studio but it just seemed like it needed a little something. So I started messing around with layering and had a little fun. I kind of made the decision, “Well, if people want to hear a live version they can go online and hear that or see us live. But now since we’re in the recording studio we’ll have a little fun and do a little layering.” And I think it really turned out cool.
You go from that sort of mellow quality to the intense string-bending on your Albert King tribute, “Drowning on Dry Land.” Are you using different guitars for each mood that you’re trying to convey on those tunes?
Koch: Sometimes that’s the case but more often than not I’ll just kind of do it on one guitar, if I possibly can. So the guitar I used on “Allora” is the same guitar I used on “Drowning on Dry Land.” I even used the same amp on both tunes.
What can you say about Albert King? What is it about Albert that has affected so many players over time?
Koch: I think that it’s just the pure sound of his fingers on the strings and that weird tuning that he was in...some kind of minor tuning. And the bends and stuff that he did, they just have this visceral effect on people. I remember the first time I heard it. It was on this syndicated radio show, “Portraits in Blue.” I was a freshman in high school and I recorded it on my cassette recorder. It was basically a history of Albert King and I remember hearing that sound and thinking if I could ever get even remotely close to sounding like that, I’d be the happiest person in the world. Because it just sounded unobtainable. And that’s also what affected me so much when I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan the first time. Because I’d been working on doing those Albert King things and I thought, “Who is this fucker that sounds just like Albert King?” Because it’s so physically difficult to bend the strings that way and to make them sound right, and there’s very few that have been able to get it within the realm of believability. And with Albert, you what he’s going to do every time, it’s not like he’s going to play something that’s going to take you by surprise. But no matter how many times you hear it, you want to hear it again.
Yeah, he has the rare ability to cause involuntary grimacing in the listener.
Koch: Yes, exactly.
The last tune on the album is “Daddy Longlegs.”
Koch: Yes…“Cruising along in the Up’Nuh.” That's my son’s vernacular for Up North. It’s kind of a “Strange Brew”lick (from Cream’s 1967 album, Disraeli Gears) that I came up with. We had just gone into our vacation up to our cottage and every time my wife or daughters would see a Daddy Longlegs spider they’d just scream and go out of their minds and I’d be called to action to slay it or remove it. So it became kind of a catch-all term for our Covid hideaway up to the cottage, complete with having Toby do the scream towards the end. That was quite beautiful.
And if I'm not mistaken, I’m hearing cowbell on tune?
Koch: Yes, there is definitely cowbell happening.
Actually, I think I need more cowbell on that.